|Bengt Thorbjörnson on the left|
He preferred the Highland malts and considered the Campbeltown malts were "lacking midtaste". The factors most affecting the flavour of whisky according to his studies were: 1) Water, which should be low in calcium. The water of River Spey was good as it ran through soil rich in granite and sand. 2) Climate, which should be quite cold but even to allow long stable distilling times. 3) Amount of peat used in drying the malt. 4) Bacteriae flora, as the local bacteriae influenced the quality of the brew. 5) Experience of staff.
The first place to visit was the wine and spirit retailer W.H.Chaplin & Co in London, who were at the time the sole representatives of the popular Long John brand. Their warehouse at Tower Hill consisted of 10 floors, of which 3 were underground. Huge glazed concrete cisterns (136 000 l) were used to vat and cold-chill-filter port wine. The whisky was vatted on demand in smaller concrete vats of size about 22 000 litres from different casks and different distilleries. According to other sources, Ben Nevis was the leading malt for Long John.
At John Walker & Son Thorbjörnson was hosted by the manager Sir Alexander Walker. At the time their Johnnie Walker blend was the most sold whisky brand in the world. Only sherry casks were used at the time. About 20% of them were new casks seasoned with sherry and the rest were refill casks rejuvenated with a small amount (about 35 litres) of sweet dark sherry for six weeks during which they were turned regularly. After the sherry-seasoning they are treated with pressure to impregnate more sherry into the wood. The sherry in the cask was then poured off and used several times for other casks. The pressure treatment had been developed by WP Lowrie in late 19th century and at the time of Thorbjörnson's visit it was used by many other blenders and distilleries as well. The Walkers had recently shifted to mainly hogshead size casks to ensure even quality. At the present time the Johnnie Walker recipe consisted of 10 parts Highland malt (Mortlach, Benrinnes, Ord, Cardow, Glenlossie, Dailuaine, Aultmore, Coleburn or Clynelish), 2 parts of Islay malt (Talisker (classified as Islay!), Caol Ila or Lagavulin) and 2 parts of Lowland malt (Rosebank or Glenkinchie). The blended malt was then again blended with grain whisky (mostly Caledonian) and the malt content varied between 40-60%. Long John blend consisted of 65% grain, 15% Lowland malt, 15% Highland malt and 5% Islay malts.
|Caledonian distillery in 1966 (scotlandsplaces.gov.uk)|
Mortlach produced high quality Highland malt with "quite old-fashioned means". A total of 24 men were employed to produce 8 000 gallons per week. Production was bigger than at the Invergordon distilleries, as Glen-Mhor and Glen Albyn managed only 2 500-3 000 gallons per week each. Distillation was carried out from September to end of May and the spring production was considered to be of the best quality. Mostly foreign barley was used and floor malted on site. Two kilns were used to dry malt for 50 hours in up to 77C after 9 days of germination. About 18 kg peat for every 120 kg of coal was used in kilning. Fermentation time in seven 60 000 gallon washbacks varied between 46-56 hours. After each fermentation the washbacks were washed with lime and peat was burned on the bottom of the washback to avoid bacterial contamination. The spirit was double distilled (no mention of the Wee Witchie or even partial triple distillation) to a very high proof of 45 over proof (82,8% abv) and reduced to standard 63,4% before maturation. Rummagers for wash still and direct firing with coal for both stills were used.
Thorbjörnson calculated that the blending and maturation was cheaper in big English warehouses compared to the Swedish Reymersholm or Slottet warehouses. He also thought that the flavours came mostly from the malt whiskies and therefore the malt content of the Swedish blends (Crown Blend and Black Label) should be increased. On the other hand Scotch grain whisky could be replaced with cheaper domestic neutral potato spirit to cut costs. He also made a a costs-analysis for building a Swedish malt distillery with a 500 000 litres capacity per 6 months, which apparently never came to be.
References and further reading:
Kansallisarkisto, Helsinki. http://www.arkisto.fi/en/the-national-archives-service/arkistolaitoksen-vaiheet-2
Koch B. Från idé till produkt. Svenska Uppfinnarföreningen, 1963.Morrice, P. Schweppes guide to Scotch. Alphabooks 1983
Spiller, B. Cardhu. John Walker & Sons, 1985.